Making a Monster

Monster:

1. a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature

Hello and welcome to the Spells & Spaceships Fantasy Monster Week!

This week will look at the monsters specifically of the Fantasy, Sci-Fi and folklore variety, largely sticking to the above definition – there’ll be no serial killers or other deplorable humans. Unless they’re covered in fur every full moon.

For day one, we have a general look at what makes a memorable monster. We have My Favourite Monster – from Bex, Ben, Caroline & myself, plus I chat with the knowledgeable and insightful Katie Roome about all things monster. Enjoy the post and get involved on twitter with your own thoughts and your fave monster reads. Any reviews you post with #FantasyMonsterWeek I will be trawling the hashtag to add content to the Monster Week hub. Thanks, and enjoy!


Bex

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death my die.”



I think it’s about time for everyone to step aside and make way for the King of Monsters – that’s right folks bow before your Sultan, Tzar, Holy Emperor and Ruler of the world; Cthulhu.

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This chap is the ULTIMATE in monsters from your nightmares and here’s what make this monster my favourite.

Firstly this story is the pinnacle turn of the century horror which played on readers minds and introduced the book community to the notion of an insidious being that doesn’t leave much room for a happy ending; and honestly… I LOVE IT!! I loved that there wasn’t much resolve, that there was no ‘super hero’ who saves the world. This leviathan of a creature is woken up from its slumber and he is pissed!

“The Thing cannot be described – There is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.” – The Call of Cthulhu H.P. Lovecraft

This is a story which is told in third person by an Inspector Legrasse who is collecting the accounts of sailors who had accidentally woke this creature. This in itself makes for an eerie reading and adds to the suspense of finding out what exactly happened. There are passages from a captains log book (Johansen) who had returned from his experience with “‘yellow hair turned white'” and spoke of “…six men who never made it back to the ship… two perished from pure fright”.

Then we get to Cuthulhu itself. The descriptions from the crew as the creature wakes is intense, filled with a darkness that only a person who has experienced such horrors could describe. The only description we have of the beast is one from a small sculpture found by Inspector Legrasse. We learn of the appearance of Cthulhu as being “vaguely anthropoid… with an octopus-like head whose face is a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet and long narrow wings behind.” The discovery leaves chills up the spine and when the Inspector puts into writing his feelings on this, it becomes apparent that the age of the sculpture makes for even more mystery. No one knows the age or origin of this creature – was it always here slumbering under the Earth? Had it fallen from the stars? What kind of Maker would create such an abomination?

However, the lasting effects of seeing such a creature is what really brings this monster to light. This malign creature isn’t one that randomly chases humans for fun, or poses a threat in terms of being vicious – it affects the psyche. There are accounts in the writing which talk about those crew members who survived the attack as having begun to “dream of a strange, dank Cyclopean city” and people moulding “the form of the dreaded Cthulhu [in his sleep]” There is even an account from Johansen of one of his crew members looking back at the creature as they fled the scene and going mad “laughing shrilly… till death found him one night in the cabin”.

The ultimate confirmation that this monster is King of Kings is the fact that it has such a huge following in the present day. From Call of Cthulhu RPG games to downloadable Cthulhu virtual pets for your mobile, this monster has indeed been woken up from its slumber and will be hanging round the human race for a long while to come.

If you haven’t already read this book I highly recommend you do. It is a fantastic short story and at around 100 pages long will leave you filled with dread and darkness.

Find Bex on twitter @paperbackbex


Benedict

Goblins are such sneaky little critters in fantasy but can be equally vicious. For me they first appeared in The Hobbit as Frodo tried to make his way through their caves while avoiding Gollum.

Normally green and definitely small, they’re usually found roaming in a pack. Not quite as fearsome as a dragon or a kraken (close second), goblins can overwhelm opponents with sheer numbers, making a lot of noise as they attack with big eyes and sharp teeth!

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I personally love how they can be used in books. Since they’re not high up on most people’s list of monsters they don’t carry the same prestige but whack them in against your hero and you’ve got an instant stabby problem. I have written them into my work in progress and goblin wars are mentioned in the Blurb for The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman so maybe they’re making a comeback?

Find Ben on twitter @benedictCOYS


Caroline

Hello and welcome to Monster Week! 

When Alex first asked me to participate in this week my mind immediately jumped to dragons. However, I dropped the idea just as quickly as the books I went for first – How to Train Your Dragon, Temeraire, Guards! Guards! – all have dragons as our closest companions and champions of justice. Our most loyal of friends. Cute and kind and absolutely not monsters. 

So then I started thinking about what, exactly, is a monster? They can certainly come in all shapes and sizes from ghosts, to beasts, to humans, to yes, even dragons (just not my favorite ones). I think you could actually write quite a lot on this subject, so to keep it simple I tried to keep this definition from Wiki in my mind while writing: “A monster is often a type of grotesque creature, whose appearance frightens and whose powers of destruction threaten the human world’s social or moral order. A monster can also be like a human, but in folklore, they are commonly portrayed as the lowest class, as mutants, deformed, supernatural, and otherworldly.”

Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi

They say that if one consumes mermaid flesh, one can attain immortality. Unfortunately, the more likely results include becoming horribly deformed or turning into a vicious monster! Even if one were to gain eternal life, however, is such an anomaly a lucky blessing or a terrible curse?

Yuta became immortal when he unwittingly ate mermaid flesh, and now he seeks a way to become human again. Hundreds of years later, he encounters a volatile and determined young lady named Mana while searching for a mermaid. Could this mysterious woman hold the key to saving Yuta’s humanity?

This short series was my first introduction to horror when I was around 10 years old. I love the idea of taking something that is usually considered so pure and beautiful and turning it into something ugly and dangerous. Takahashi’s excellent artwork also helped drive home the other side of the beautiful creatures as powerful, grotesque things. 

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The Terror by Dan Simmons 

The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in.

When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape.

This is one of my favorite monster books because Simmons lets your imagination do most of the work. He does just enough to let who know that whatever might be out there certainly isn’t good, but leaves it up to your racing mind to make the darkness worse and worse. He leaves you just unsure enough if it’s the wind or rats or a monstrous nightmare waiting around the next bend to leave you deeply unsettled and on edge throughout the entire story. In the best traditions of horror stories, the author knows its what we can’t see – can’t be sure of – that is truly terrible. 

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor 

In the town of Night Vale, there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in everyone’s home, but no one knows how she got there or where she came from…until now. Told in a series of eerie flashbacks, the story of The Faceless Old Woman goes back centuries to reveal an initially blissful and then tragic childhood on a Mediterranean Estate in the early nineteenth century, her rise in the criminal underworld of Europe, a nautical adventure with a mysterious organization of smugglers, her plot for revenge on the ones who betrayed her, and ultimately her death and its aftermath, as her spirit travels the world for decades until settling in modern-day Night Vale.

Interspersed throughout is a present-day story in Night Vale, as The Faceless Old Woman guides, haunts, and sabotages a man named Craig. In the end, her current day dealings with Craig and her swashbuckling history in nineteenth century Europe will come together in the most unexpected and horrifying way.

I don’t think anyone could argue against the fact that there are a lot of excellent monsters in Welcome to Night Vale. Deer. Kevin. A Smiling God. Who’s a Good Boy? And of course, the best of them all. For me, she is a particularly good monster because of how complex her character is. Absolutely terrifying to look at, often anywhere from mildly annoying to outright dangerous in your home, but then occasionally incredibly selfless and caring? A great ally and a terrible enemy: The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett 

It’s a hot Midsummer Night. The crop circles are turning up everywhere-even on the mustard-and-cress of Pewseyy Ogg, aged four. And Magrat Garlick, witch, is going to be married in the morning…Everything ought to be going like a dream. But the Lancre All-Comers Morris Team have got drunk on a fairy mound and the elves have come back, bringing all those things traditionally associated with the magical, glittering realm of Faerie: cruelty, kidnapping, malice and evil, evil murder.* Granny Weatherwax and her tiny argumentative coven have really got their work cut out this time…With full supporting cast of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris Dancers and one orang-utan. And lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.

*But with tons of style.

Lets talk about elves. If you read fantasy regularly, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve met an elf before. They were probably extremely beautiful. Smart. Powerful. Aloof. Above anyone they were talking too. We’ve all read Tolkein and everyone seemed to agree that he was the first and last word about elves. 

Except Pratchett. One of the things I love most about the Discworld is how often Pratchett takes common monsters like zombies, the boogeyman, orcs, goblins, and vampires and turns them into people just trying to make a living. And in that same vein he takes the alluring Elf trope and turns it on his head. They are definitely otherworldly and their powers of destruction absolutely threaten the world’s social order. 

“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.” 

Bioshock 

Trailer:

I love stories in all of their iterations and video games are no exception. For the most part, video game monsters usually don’t break the mold. Main characters might, plots and visuals often do, but villains (and ESPECIALLY the 8000 monsters we have to get through to get to them) rarely do. This is where Little Sister and Big Daddy stand out. I’m including them both here, but if you’ve played the game you may be asking yourself “ARE they monsters?” Great question and one the game asks you to make for yourself considering you can save or kill the girls. When I played, I saved the girls, but I’m still not sure if I could say they were victims or monsters – or both – and their big daddies, which you have to kill regardless of what you choose to do with the girls, even less so. The Little Sisters are very creepy simply by being 7 year olds ready to stab you and the Big Daddies are scary, unknowable (you never see them outside their diving helmets so we have NO idea what they are), and will absolutely whip your ass if you’re not ready. But this is with the singular goal of protecting their charges. I “saved” every Little Sister in the game, but, even years later, I’ve never felt “right” about killing their protectors or was even clear what I did was best for the girls and I think this ambiguity makes Little Sisters & Big Daddies one of the best monsters ever written. 

Find Caroline on twitter @asweetdevouring


Alex

So I know it’s Fantasy Monster Week, but I’m counting Sci-fi within the same sort of bracket, simply because this monster stands out so much to me. It’s a creature whose primary aim is murder; and it enjoys it. It can see you, but often you can’t see it. It could be anywhere, watching and waiting. It towers above you, whilst being small enough to be truly up close and personal. It hunts you. It violates you. It’s mysterious yet horrifying to look at, to listen to. It’s formidable.

It’s the Xenomorph.

I find the Xenomorph iconic and fascinating. And I really don’t think many creatures come close to invoking that sheer feeling of hopelessness and terror. Game over man, game over!

It’s a creature with talons, a barbed tail, acid blood, incredible strength, stealth and intelligence, razor sharp teeth and a sort of tongue that shoots out with its own teeth, with the power to penetrate a human skull. The creature can rip humans apart with ease.

Many monsters though have the claws and teeth; it sort of comes with the territory. What especially makes the Xenomorph scary to me is the terror it invokes through the way it acts. There’s something creepy about things that are vaguely humanoid, and its origins being ambiguous adds to the mystery I feel is essential to maintaining fear of a monster. I also feel like a monster being the size of a building diminishes its level of terror a little – not its danger, but the sheer fear it invokes because it just becomes less personal. The Xenomorph stalks you through darkened corridors, hiding in gaps it has no right to fit into, blending in with its surroundings. It might toy with you, it might carry you off to wrap up alive for later, to be impregnated by its parasitical larvae, it might just straight up murder you in a number of ways for its own enjoyment. It never talks, it never reasons, no sympathy – just pain, terror and death. It’s the ultimate killing machine and I love it.


A chat with Katie Roome

A: First off Katie I’d like to say thankyou for taking part in the event!
Monsters have held a fascination with people for centuries and I don’t think that’s changed now, except the more of the world that’s revealed, the less easy it can be to actually believe in undiscovered monsters. Are there any supposedly real life monsters you think COULD exist, or is it mostly just fairy stories? I used to tell myself there was a chance the loch Ness monster could be a plesiosaur, but I’m not holding out hope…

K: Thank you for having me! I think our real life monsters have been stripped of mysticism by familiarity. Tigers, sharks, grizzly bears, and especially dinosaurs are all seen first in books, carefully labelled with factoids and then in a zoo or museum where their “monstrousness” is reduced by inaction. We don’t have too many stories in the cultural psyche and certainly not personal experiences of heart pounding terror facing a predator in our back yard. So I don’t hold out much hope for a more fantastical monster being discovered without being similarly reduced, unfortunately.

Personally, I indulge the fantasy that monsters did exist at one point; dragons bear so much resemblance to dinosaurs and Herodotus talks about winged serpents in Egypt, although he only saw the bones himself. But if we say “those were probably X, and didn’t Y,” then we enter a quibbling discussion about what makes something a REAL monster, which probably comes down to something that cannot exist by definition.

A: Really interesting points – I 100% feel that if some of our predators didn’t exist and were only described through stories, they’d be called monsters. Great White Sharks, Crocodiles, Grizzly Bears, Lions and plenty of others. It’s that unfamiliarity certainly that makes us label something a monster.

Do you have a favourite fantasy monster?

Other than the Xenomorph, there’s something about the giant squid that provokes a sense of helplessness imagining being in the middle of the ocean, encompassed by multiple tentacles bringing down the ship. Of course we only recently discovered these Kraken type monsters are actually based on reality, if a little different in behaviour than these ship-crushing leviathons. I love that though that the sea is so boundless.

K: My favorite is probably the dragon, although it suffers these days from being over done to the point of familiarity. I think it represents the ultimate monster: a combo of the world’s great predators (tiger, eagle, python) and a threat to order (crops, civilization, life). It also has cosmic functions in narratives of both creation and destruction, which is intriguing.

As far as monsters that are actually scary though, as a kid I had nightmares about giants walking by our house
And the chaos that I fear as an adult is any monster that can forcibly change me or those I love.

Dracula’s vampire women come to mind, but there have been other more modern examples. The sea is so full of legitimately monstrous things that I sometimes forget to think of them! The kraken is a great one.

A: Like you touched on towards the start of the conversation, ultimately we fear what we don’t know and I think the scariest are often the unseen monsters. When someone has described them but they’re unseen, in the shadows, a myth that could be true. It’s why I think in many horror movies, once the monster is seen, a lot of the fear goes away.


It’s perhaps why I find most of the human Monsters, and demon type monsters the scariest. And of course the open ocean and what could be waiting unseen below!

Thanks so much to Katie for the interesting chat. You can find her @redhedgedragon


A big Thankyou to all 4 of the great people who helped with today’s post and their monster thoughts! I hope you enjoyed Monster Week day 1. Tomorrow comes humanoid monsters and a review of a Werewolf themed magazine…

3 thoughts on “Making a Monster

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